O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 14
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout our game within a game. Here at 4for4, we’re dedicated to looking at fantasy pieces from all angles, and that includes the positive and negative impact an offensive line has on that team’s fantasy assets.
Below I’m going to be digging into specific weekly matchups between offensive lines and the opposing defense's aFPA —one of the many useful tools available to us here at 4for4. Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. These numbers will continue to strengthen through more data points as the season progresses and when compared to a team’s advantages within the trenches will expose fantasy pieces we may not have otherwise considered.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Browns vs. Ravens
Coming out of their bye week, the Browns will go right back to work against a Ravens team that turned the ball over a handful of times but still came out on top back in Week 12. An extra week to gameplan a back-to-back opponent would seem like a huge plus but problems arise when we start to look into the complete dearth of talent that Cleveland possesses in the receiver room. Things get even hairier when we consider that David Njoku has been placed on the COVID list and will be ineligible to return in time for the game on Sunday.
Nonetheless, the team should be able to continue leaning on their reliable offensive line, even sans right tackle Jack Conklin who tore his patellar tendon in these teams’ first matchup. Cleveland didn’t allow a single sack two weeks ago and that helped to propel both Harrison Bryant and Jarvis Landry to usable fantasy weeks. Landry will slide into a high-floor WR2/3 situation while Bryant is a fine desperation tight end play, though I would much prefer to play Austin Hooper as a possible touchdown-or-bust option.
49ers @ Bengals
Rivals of decades past, the 49ers travel to Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday afternoon and they’ll be toting with them, left tackle Trent Williams, who will look to stymie breakout edge rusher, Trey Hendrickson. Despite Hendrickson ranking fifth in total pressures forced (57), the Bengals still rank in the bottom ten of pressure% as the depth doesn’t run very deep. We have seen San Francisco’s line allow seven or fewer pressures in three of their last four games, allowing Jimmy Garoppolo to remain upright and remind us all that when healthy, George Kittle can run laps around the competition.
Brandon Aiyuk didn’t see a change in his role in the first week without Deebo Samuel on the field, but he remains a borderline WR2 play in this matchup, as he has six or more targets in five of his last six games.
Football Team vs. Cowboys
Washington has been on a tear since their Week 9 bye, winning all four of their games, including a stunner against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Much of the success can be assessed to the offensive line, who, despite juggling some injuries, still ranks third in ESPN’s pass block win rate (67%) and first in run block win rate (76%). All the extra time in the pocket has allowed Taylor Heinicke to complete 77.3% of his passes over the last month of games, trailing only Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones over that period.
Heinicke will operate as a very serviceable QB2 in super flex leagues and Ricky Seals-Jones, who will be filling in for Logan Thomas, has a great chance to cash in some fantasy points, as the team has maintained an 18.3% target share to the position, even with the tight end injury carousel they’ve had to endure.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Packers vs. Bears
Coming off of a three-sack, four-interception performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week, the Bears will now head up to Lambeau Field to face off against the fifth-ranked Green Bay Packers scoring defense. Before their bye week, the Packers had one game in which they held the Chiefs to seven points and a follow-up performance where they goose-egged the Seahawks before allowing the Vikings and Rams’ stout passing games to hang some bigger numbers on them. The Bears, who have scored 20 or less in eight-of-twelve games, are more likely to mirror the former pair of games, rather than the latter.
Chicago has two games of four or more turnovers and has allowed three or more sacks in every game since October 17th, except their one game against the Detroit Lions. Green Bay may have the highest D/ST fantasy floor of Week 14.
Panthers vs. Falcons
Sitting at 5-7 after beginning the season 3-0, the Carolina Panthers look to be in turmoil coming out of their bye week, and the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Brady only adds fuel to the fire. While the offensive side of the ball is dealing with punches coming from every direction, the young Panthers defense is casually seventh in points allowed and second in yardage allowed, all while pressuring opposing quarterbacks on 46.2% of their dropbacks, the third-highest rate in the league.
On the Atlanta side of the ball, they have been attempting to restructure their offensive line through the draft for years now, and either because of poor evaluations or poor luck, it has not worked. The latest misstep seems to be Jalen Mayfield, who has been slid inside to left guard after playing tackle through his college career at Michigan. I’m not saying that he has had bad performances based solely on being moved inside, but he is being walked back into the pocket on numerous occasions every single game, a fact that was exasperated last week against Tampa Bay’s ferocious interior. Add to that the Falcons’ recent insistence on rotating Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy at the center position, and opposing defenses know exactly which gap to attack when Matt Ryan drops back to pass.
The Panthers had three sacks and eight quarterback hits in their last matchup with Atlanta, and I would expect something similar to that this Sunday.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Broncos vs. Lions
The Javonte Williams rocketship has taken off, and if you weren’t already on it you are probably out of luck. The buy-low window has been shut, locked, and caulked close. Though Melvin Gordon looks as if he will play this week (he hasn’t yet practiced as of this writing) it would be hard to see how the Broncos don’t allow a bigger piece of the pie for the rookie after he racked up 178 total yards on 29 carries and receptions, gobbling up over six yards per touch.
Regardless of who is technically the “starter”, the Denver backfield tandem will take on a Lions defense that ranks 26th in adjusted line yards (4.54) and 29th in Sports Info Solutions’ BT+MT% metric, which looks into how often players force missed tackles against a defense. As it stands right now, our rankings have Williams as a back-end RB1 and Gordon as an RB3, but if Gordon is forced to miss another game, I would bet Javonte gets bumped closer to a top-five option.
(12/8/2021 Update: Melvin Gordon did end up practicing on Wednesday, which would suggest that the backfield will be sharing touches)
Rams @ Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are a run-funnel defense in terms of allowed fantasy production, as is highlighted by their top-six aFPA to both the quarterback and wide receiver positions, but their 22nd ranking against running backs. This will get tested on Monday Night Football as the division-rival Los Angeles Rams will be bringing their potent passing attack into Arizona. The last time these teams met up —in Week 4— it was a fantasy goldmine, with 57 total points and 866 total yards, meaning it didn’t quite matter how you attacked the game, you likely came out with some crooked numbers in your score sheet.
The landscape will be slightly different for the Rams this week, as some additions and subtractions have been made to that box score, namely Robert Woods, Odell Beckham, and possibly Darrell Henderson, who was “active” in Week 13, yet received zero snaps. If we could receive some clarification on the availability of Henderson, either he or Sony Michel would be a shoo-in to sniff triple-digit yardage totals. As it stands we’ll have to hedge our bets and assume neither will eclipse 15 touches, albeit those 15 touches would be quite valuable on this potent offense in what is likely to be a shootout. Both are floating around an RB2 ranking for this week, while either/or would be an RB1 if we get any clarification heading into the weekend.
Running Backs with Bad Matchups
As opposed to breaking down every bad match-up through the rest of the slate, here are some running backs I’m looking to avoid because of their poor offensive line and the strong defensive fronts they will be facing:
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and adjusted sack rate/adjusted line yards come from Football Outsiders